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Rep. Gordon Releases Science Committee Democrats’ Report On Hurricane Katrina Response

Reiterates Call for Independent Commission; Honest, Thorough Investigation
Sep 26, 2005
Press Release

Democrats on the House Science Committee today unveiled their special investigative report "Failing to Protect and Defend: the Federal Emergency Response to Hurricane Katrina."

Because there is no independent commission to investigate and ask tough questions, Science Committee Democrats submitted their own timeline of events and conclusions, and broached important questions surround the federal response to Hurricane Katrina that deserve asking - questions the House Select Committee has not been asking.

"For this reason and so many more, we need an independent commission investigating the federal response to Katrina," said House Science Committee Ranking Member Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN).  "As it stands, the House Leadership has stripped jurisdiction from the Committees of expertise and handed issues over to a newly-formed, unstaffed, partisan group of Members.  We may never get the answers the American people deserve."

Last week, the House Science Committee was forced to forgo a hearing with the National Weather Service (NWS) and NOAA - both agencies under the Committee's direct jurisdiction - to give the Select Committee time with the witness in advance of Hurricane Rita.  While the Science Committee's hearing will likely be rescheduled, the Select Committee took up valuable time from NWS witness Max Mayfield and learned nothing new.

In fact, the partisan Select Committee let Max Mayfield change his story regarding briefings given the President, Secretary Chertoff and Undersecretary Brown.  In the week after the storm, Mayfield was very clear regarding the briefing in which they participated.  Last week, he told the Select Committee that he doesn't really remember what was said or who was involved other than a vague recollection that the President was "involved in some fashion."

"How will we ever make needed changes to federal disaster response if people aren't asking the right questions and demanding straight answers?" asked Rep. Gordon.  "As my Science Committee colleague from Louisiana Rep. Charlie Melancon so ably pointed out - this 'isn't about blame, it's about accountability' and 'planning and preparing for future disasters.'"

"Keeping citizens safe is job one - in response to Katrina, we failed.  Our report fills in the blanks on the questions we should be asking of the major players, agencies and the Administration," continued Rep. Gordon.

Before former FEMA Director Michael Brown testifies tomorrow at the Select Committee hearing, this report poses the questions people should be asking him.

As the report - compiled by Ranking Member Gordon and the Democratic Professional Staff of the Committee - states:

"The Science Committee has authorized the expenditure of literally billions of dollars on the best weather information and prediction system in the world.  We continually update it and expand its capabilities.  Our nation faces the most volatile weather on the planet, and the investments in the weather capabilities housed in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are every bit as much an investment in national security as any acquisition of new plane or tank or carrier.  All of that money and effort and knowledge is useless if the Nation's leaders lack the wisdom to simply pay attention while a storm bears down on an American city.  If those who are responsible for securing America avert their gaze when our citizens most need help, how can any of us feel safe?"

Science Democrats raise the following issues - and others - in their report:

  • Why does National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield now not remember communications with Undersecretary Brown, Secretary Chertoff or President Bush that he clearly remembered in the days immediately following Hurricane Katrina?  Has someone asked him to stop talking about what he said or witnessed in briefings for the President and senior staff prior to Hurricane Katrina's landfall?
  • Our report verifies that our foresight and intelligence collected about Katrina prior to landfall were excellent.  Science has long forecasted - with great precision - what would happen to New Orleans should it be struck by a major hurricane.  The NWS did its job well in predicting the storm's intensity and landfall with great accuracy.  Why did our country's leadership fail to mobilize appropriately in response to the warnings of our experts once they were told that a Category 4 or 5 hurricane was bearing down on New Orleans?
  • The various plans for responding to national disasters give the NWS a central role in reporting local weather conditions for any emergency.  Our national emergency management leadership appears not to have paid any attention to the National Weather Service report that the New Orleans levees had breached.  This report came at 8:14 a.m. CDT on Monday, Aug. 29, but it was not until the next morning that the President was told and the Secretary of Homeland security did not learn of this breach until Tuesday afternoon.  How is this possible?
  • The President has begun to talk of putting the military in charge of national disaster response.  This seems premature until a full, non-partisan investigation can clarify what happened in the Hurricane Katrina response.

The Science Committee Democrats' staff report lists more than 20 questions that should be pursued in an effort to learn who knew what, when and what they did about it.  Ranking Member Gordon will take necessary follow-up steps to pursue the issues raised in this report.

109th Congress